Monday, 28 October 2019

Plastic Warrior Show 2020 - date for your diary

 35th Plastic Warrior Toy Soldier Show


The Plastic Warrior Show is an annual gathering held in West London, for enthusiasts who collect, model and wargame with 54mm plastic toy soldiers, and in 2020 it will be celebrating it's 35th Year.  The show is normally held on the second Saturday in May in order to avoid the May Bank Holiday weekend (disruption to public transport by engineering works) and the FA Cup Final (inexplicably, some grown men believe watching a soccer match is more important than toy soldiers!).  

However, in 2020, the powers that be have decided to move the Bank Holiday from Monday 4th May to Friday 8th May, in order to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day.  Therefore the PW Show in 2020 is moving to the third Saturday in May, happily the Football Association will be holding their Cup Final on the following Saturday, 23rd May.

So that's all sorted, the venue remains the same, The Harlequin Suite at the Winning Post Pub & Hotel

See this previous post for directions: Plastic Warrior Show

Monday, 14 October 2019

1066 Otto Gottstein diorama discovered

On a recent visit to Hastings, land of Jack in the Green, Bonfire Boys, Grey Owl and all things 1066, I happened to mention to Mrs C that when I was a boy I regularly holidayed here with my parents and one year discovered a museum up on the cliffs which had a diorama of the Battle of Hastings. I could remember it clearly in my minds eye, it was massive, built on a table which filled the room and composed of tiny Airfix figures, the whole thing covered in a glass case.  But on subsequent visits I could never find that museum again, had I just imagined the whole thing?

And thus dear reader began the Quest!

We set off from the Pier, scaled the cliffs and with the aid of a map (a map! why didn't I think of using one of those before?) the museum was quickly found, smaller and less imposing than I remembered but it was in the right location, that was a start. diorama, in fact hardly any mention of the Battle at all! (instead whole rooms devoted to Grey Owl and conservation).  As we gathered up our disappointment and made to leave I noticed a few figures behind glass, 30mm flats, not what we had come in search of and so poorly lit that you could barely make them out.

Descending the cliffs we returned to the Old Town and resumed our holiday, sampling local ales and poking around in the myriad junk shops until we entered what appeared to be a second hand book shop and in a corner at the back we found this:

In a large glass case but looking rather dull and dusty was this diorama of the Battle of Hastings, much smaller than I remembered and comprising 30mm German tin flats not 20mm plastic Airfix figures, sadly this couldn't be the diorama from my childhood.

But it was!  I enquired about it's origin from an elderly gentleman who seemed to be in charge of the shop (sadly I didn't get his name) and he told me that it was indeed the diorama which had originally been housed in Hastings Museum up on the hill, the local borough Council had revamped the museum to make it a more interactive educational resource (oh, and also a venue for weddings and social events) for the community.  In this bright new vision there was no place for a big old box full of tiny tin soldiers so the diorama was broken up and put into storage, in due course the storage area was to be cleared out and the gentleman I was talking to had saved what was left from going in the skip. 

What remains is less than half, probably about a third of the original model, and without the centrepiece vignette of King Harold being shot in the eye by an arrow, which was retained by the museum and was the group of figures mentioned above that I had seen there.  Okay I can see that an old careworn exhibit isn't going to fit in with the needs of the modern world but I still felt it was an act of institutional vandalism, similar to what's been done at the National Army Museum (don't get me started on that)

I went back to take a longer look at the diorama to see how my memory could have been so misplaced, and then in the corner I noticed a small plastic plaque simply engraved D Stokes, London WC1 and I realised I was looking at one of the fifteen famous dioramas commissioned by the legendary collector, Otto Gottstein, for display in 1937 at the Royal United Services Museum in Whitehall.

 I didn't get a photo of the death of King Harold when I was at Hastings Museum, the display was just too dark, fortunately there is a monochrome pic of it in the 1937 catalogue for the RUSI museum exhibition.  And here it is, Harold is centre stage about to throw a spear and with a rather overscale arrow in the eye.

Above, the catalogue for the 1937 exhibition at the Royal United Services Museum in Whitehall together with the biography of Otto Gottstein and his collection (published by edition Krannich 2000, ISBN 3-933124-06-9, text mostly in German) well worth a read, Gottstein was the President of the British Model Soldier Society and also financed Roy Selwyn-Smiths first venture, Selwyn Miniatures, which went on to become the Britains Knights of Agincourt series.

If you happen to be in Hastings do pop into Hastings History House at 21 Courthouse Street, it's the current home of this venerable old diorama as well as the HQ of Old Hastings Preservation Society.  I started to write this post some time ago then realised that as today is the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, I really ought to get it posted.

After the RUSI Museum exhibition was broken up, the 15 dioramas were distributed to new homes far and wide, mostly military museums in the UK, one went to the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall and has subsequently been lost, while no less than four went to the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Canada - someone in Canada please tell us that they are still there!

Friday, 20 September 2019

Vive la Commune!

The Funny Little Wars Group recently gathered together in a dank, foreboding, cobbled courtyard, in a long forgotten corner of old London town. The cries of cutpurses, ne'er do wells and an angry mob echoed in the surrounding alleyways and rookeries........ you couldn't ask for a better setting in which to recreate Paris of the Communards in1871.

 The western suburbs, from the gateways in the crumbling ancient walls, wide boulevards run through to the heart of the City.  The boulevards are denoted by chalked lines, the areas between the boulevards are a congested warren of houses and narrow alleyways (you have to use a bit of imagination here!)

The National Government has fallen after embarking on a disastrous war against Germany which saw the City subject to a six month siege and the humiliating capture of Emperor Napoleon III at Sedan.  A new Government of National Defence has been established at Versailles, troops are sent to recover all the artillery from Paris but they are opposed by a popular uprising of the workers at Montmartre, backed by the Paris National Guard

The view from the South Gateway, the red flags of the Revolutionaries fly from all the major buildings seized by the National Guard, the artillery park at Montmartre is in the left background.  Prominent supporters of the Versailles government, the clergy and Archbishop Darboy have been rounded up and imprisoned.  Elections are held and a Commune Council is installed to run the City.

Meanwhile Versailles builds an army, calling in troops from regional garrisons, gendarmes, firemen, naval and foreign legion units.  Marshal MacMahon is ordered to retake Paris, he occupies the surrounding forts and opens a bombardment of the City.

MacMahon marches on Paris but his way is blocked by Fort Issy which is still held by the Communards.  The garrison Commander, Leon Megy, has taken the precaution of barricading himself in the forts deep wine cellar, several hours later a runner is sent back to Paris to inform the Council that he is in no fit state to command.  A company of National Guard are sent to assess the situation, and stiffen resolve in the fort, they have secret orders to spike the guns and escape if resistance looks untenable.

MacMahon's columns suffer heavy casualties from Fort Issy as they advance but eventually they surround the Fort and overwhelm it.  The garrison manage to spike the guns before they surrender, they are then executed by the victorious Versailles troops.   This sets an ugly precedent which will have unfortunate consequences for the hostages under arrest in Paris.

The indiscriminate bombardment of  Paris has continued daily and turned much of the suburbs to rubble but caused relatively few casualties.  Rather than cower the Communards it has strengthened their resolve to fight to the end.

Meanwhile the Revolutionaries have not been idle, barricades are thrown up, buildings booby-trapped with explosives and incendiaries.  The newly formed Committee of Public Safety have ordered more arrests of anyone suspected of supporting Versailles.  A sweep of the suburbs uncovers a counter-revolutionary plot to rescue the hostages and the traitors (seen here in prison with Archbishop Darboy) face the firing squad.

The biggest problem for the Communards is that they don't have enough men to hold all the strongpoints in the City, also they have an abundance of artillery and shells but few artillery crews trained to use them.

As MacMahon's troops forced their way into the City, my character, Gustave Cluseret, was arrested by the Committee of Public Safety and accused of leaving the gates open, I was to be tried for Incompetence.....or Treason.......or Both! (don't you just love committees?).  News that I would face the firing squad when found guilty drew rapturous applause from my fellow players! (steady on lads, it's only a game).

Happily a favourable roll of the dice saved me from the firing squad!  A desperate struggle begins in the streets and alleyways as the Communards struggled to withstand the steady disciplined advance of the regular troops, canister shot rips gaping holes in their ranks but there are just too many to stop and the revolutionaries are continually forced to fall back from one strongpoint to the next.

As the fainter hearts among the workers begin to drift away the fervent hard core revolutionaries dig in and prepare to sell their lives dearly as the fighting grinds down into a struggle from house to house.  There are also a few surprises held in reserve, as the regulars seek cover in unoccupied houses they set off the infernal traps, the air is rent with explosions and fire sweeps through the district, although the actual casualties are light.  The regulars must now face the fury of the Petroleuses, emotionally patriotic women (seen here in front of the buildings left and right) who launch themselves suicidally at the invaders, bombs in hand, this time the casualties are much heavier.

As the ranks manning the barricades get thinner and thinner, only the fanatics remain and the inevitable end is in sight.  A massive quantity of partypoppers were expended simulating the effect of canister shot, booby traps and the bombs of the Petroleuses.  Great fun!

While all this has been going on, the Versailles Government has been negotiating with the German Army, who still occupy the eastern approaches to Paris, to be allowed to pass a another column of troops through their lines and attack the undefended eastern suburbs of the City.  this new column races through the streets brushing aside the light defences, as news of the impending collapse reaches the Central Committee there is just enough time for me to give the orders for Archbishop Darboy and the hostages to be executed while all the prominent buildings are put to the torch.  The new attack quickly reached the central redoubt but we didn't hang around to take any pictures of their triumph.  My comrade Louis Delescluze (played by Graham A.) donned his red sash of office and honourably climbed onto the barricade, pour encourager les autres, where he was promptly shot dead.  I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and made my escape during all the confusion dressed as a nun.

And thus ended the Paris Commune of 1871.

Okay it didn't all happen quite like that but my rendition of events is closer to the truth than some of the more spurious Versailles sponsored propaganda you are likely to see appearing in other parts of the blogosphere.  A nasty, vicious little campaign, as the quelling of civil insurrections so often are, but also an interesting and unusual one which throws up a lot of fascinating personalities and is so often overlooked by the enthusiasts of military history.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Rorkes Drift, another BattleCry game

Anthony has taken delivery of the Rorke's Drift compound, commissioned from Mike Lewis of Imperial Miniatures, who designed it for use with the BattleCry or Portable Wargames rule systems.  As with our previous Risorgimento game there is a scenario sheet for playing Rorke's Drift using BattleCry on the Command and Colours website, so we decided to give it a spin, here's how it went:

An overview of the compound model, designed in modular form for ease of storage and transport, it can be reconfigured for other scenarios.

All of the figures are from Anthony's Zulu War collection and are made by Little Legion Toy Soldiers they really are a joy to game with.

The mechanics of the game require the British defenders to withstand three waves of Zulu attacks.  A wave is repulsed when four Zulu units have been destroyed, the Zulus then return to their starting positions to begin the next attack wave.  All Zulu units are reinstated at the start of each new wave to represent their overwhelming numbers.  

At the end of each attack wave the defenders are allowed to rearrange their formations within the compound but their casualties are not replaced, so the garrison is being steadily depleted.  Victory objective for the Zulus is to destroy all the British units.

The first Zulu assault inflicted casualties but couldn't breach the mealie bag walls before being beaten off

The second wave approached more cautiously and succeeded in breaking into the compound but concentrated fire from the redcoats drove them back and they were repulsed again. 

The defenders were now severely depleted as the third wave breached the wall in several places, then just when it looked like they would be overwhelmed they managed to regroup and hold the line.  (Just like in the movie!)

So a close run win to the Brit's.  The format of  the successive attack waves worked very well and would convert easily to non grid based games, particularly any siege games.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Battle Cry and the Risorgimento

The date for our next game had been in the diary for a couple of months and we talked about trying something different, but as the day drew nearer one of my cats broke a leg, which rather changed the dynamic in our calm and peaceful household.  Rather than postpone we opted for something easy to set up and play, but still wanted something a bit different.  A quick search through the scenarios on the Command and Colours website gave us Garibaldi's invasion of  Sicily in 1860 and the Battle of Calatafimi.

Garibaldi has landed and declared himself dictator of Sicily, as he marches on the capital, Palermo, the Neapolitan General Staff send General Landi to block him and put down the popular insurrection.  As usual we were playing a wargame with 54mm toy soldiers, here's how it went:

The opening positions find Garibaldi and Bixio with their 1,000 Red Shirts (the "Mille") occupying the village of Vita on the left, Major Sforza has rushed the Neapolitan infantry forward to occupy the hills of Pianto dei Romani in the centre.  On the hills beyond we can just make out the Picciotti, local militia, who have turned out to support the uprising.  On the right we find General Landi in Calatafimi bringing up the rest of the Neapolitan troops.

The Neapolitan troops have been pushed forward to occupy the hills, the artillery is served by seasoned professionals, the infantry are well trained and armed but are raw recruits, if they lose a morale check they will fall back two hexes.

General Landi in Calatafimi rouses the Chasseurs and reserve infantry, but they won't move out until after the fourth turn.

Garibaldi's Mille advance on the hills from the village of Vita.  Garibaldi himself can be seen leading the unit on the right, his second in command, Bixio is with the units on the left.

The Picciotti, poorly trained and armed, sit in the hills waiting to see what will happen, the scenario prevents them from taking any part in the action until after the fourth turn, their combat effectiveness is also reduces by 25%

The Neapolitan infantry wait apprehensively, overlooking the well cultivated valley, they can hear the Red Shirts approaching but their line of sight is blocked by the woods on the hills opposite.

Both sides move into contact in the centre

The action in the centre flows back and forth attack being met with counterattack and both sides giving good account of themselves.

A few well placed rounds from the Neapolitan artillery on the right flank has pinned down the Picciotti in their hills and things are looking desperate for the Red Shirts

The Neapolitan reserve finally get under way but it's too little, too late and the game will be over before they arrive.

Through shear force of personality Garibaldi leads his men in one final charge and breaks the Neapolitan line, as the enemy fall back in disorder the game is suddenly over.

The game played out in very much the same way as the actual battle 169 years ago, I guess that's the mark of a well designed scenario.  The figures are nearly all conversions from various American Civil War figures and the practised eye should be easily able to distinguish their origin, I counted seven different manufacturers making up the Red Shirts.  The game involved a lot of different terrain features, which took a while to set up and get acquainted with, but after that it moved very fast and we were done in about two hours.